Convergence is a word that's much used, and abused, in the technology industry. And, a bit like the vegetable extract spread – Marmite – you either hate the idea or you love it. Some stick firmly to the idea that one device should do just one job. A phone for phoning, a satnav for route-finding, a television for watching television on... the theory is that something dedicated to one task will, inevitably, do it better than one that does many.
But manufacturers seem to love it, constantly beavering away building as many features as they can into every device they kick out of the door. Mobile phones now take pictures, play music and can act as pocket satnav systems. Tiny pocket MP3 players can now play video. Satnavs can now play music - the list goes on.
It's certainly something that's already bringing together home networks, computers, audio and video playback, but the convergence of computers and home entertainment has its drawbacks. And one of the biggies is having video, TV shows, music and other audio files strewn around your home on various laptops, PCs and storage boxes, which can be inconvenient to organise or make sense of.
It's a problem that Freecom's Network MediaPlayer 350-WLAN 500GB aims to solve. Like Netgear's highly capable EVA 8000 I reviewed a couple of months back, this can connect to your home network wirelessly and stream audio, video and HD video content straight to your TV or hi-fi so you can watch all those downloaded files without having to burn them onto DVD or connect your laptop to the telly.
But this Freecom isn't simply a copycat device. On top of its network streaming capabilities, it also packs a 500GB 7,500 rpm Hitachi Desktar IDE hard disk. This means you can transfer your media files to it and watch them without having to have your networked machines switched on all of the time. You can use the device as a file and media server too with its built-in NAS capability, and it's all squeezed into a box not much bigger than a hardback Harry Potter, making it easy to squeeze into a spare space in your equipment rack.